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Exploring and Affirming Identity: Upper School affinity groups support students’ self-exploration and help build community

Ravenscroft places great emphasis on supporting all aspects of a child’s growth and development, and we share a common charge to ensure every member of our community feels valued, safe and cared for.

As a part of this ever-important priority, and in response to interest from the student body, earlier this year the Upper School officially launched affinity groups, advisor-led student organizations whose members have a shared identifier.

How do affinity groups better support the growth and development of students and serve our community? Why are they so important? We sat down with Head of Upper School Peter Bogue and Assistant Head of School for Student Affairs Susan Perry, Ph.D., MSW, LCSW to gain deeper insight.

“In our support of students, we work with the National Association of Independent School’s best practices,” Perry said. “The vision for affinity groups, as put forward by NAIS, is to provide a safe space in our educational environments for everyone — students, faculty, staff and school leadership — to be able to work together; identify commonality, issues and concerns through dialogue; provide affirmation and, ultimately, share and listen in the service of greater understanding.

“This group work very purposefully includes discussions about race, ethnicity and cultural identity development.”

The Upper School has established affinity groups for students who identify as Jewish, African and African American, Indian subcontinent, atheist or non-religious, and multiracial and cross-racial adoptees. The groups have a purpose statement and a faculty sponsor and are designed to allow members, as individuals and as a whole, to engage in conversations and activities supporting positive identity exploration, personal growth and the development of their group.

In addition, the groups often extend invitations to one another to explore topics, share, learn and grow together. “These groups are committed to the positive exploration of identities and interests and having conversations across difference,” Bogue explained.

“Affinity groups are slightly different from other organizations and clubs in that all members must share a common ‘I’ perspective,” he added. “This is different from a support organization or club, in which individuals from the broader community might be members offering support and participation yet may not have (or share) the ‘I’ perspective.”

Adam Seidenfrau ’19 has been very involved in the establishment and organization of the school’s Jewish affinity group.

“When I first got to Ravenscroft, I don’t really think people understood Judaism or the significance of any of our holidays,” he said.  “I believe the creation of the affinity group parallels the increasing knowledge, understanding and tolerance of the Jewish faith tradition.”

The group has given Adam and other Jewish students a comfortable place to explore the challenges they face and talk about the things they can do, as a group, to make the community more inclusive.

“The majority of our affinity group meetings are spent trying to find appropriate ways to share our faith traditions with the rest of Ravenscroft,” he said. “Whether that is playing dreidel for chocolate coins with Lower School students or designing a custom menorah for Hanukkah, we strive to create activities that everyone in the community would want to take the time to participate in, and learn a little more about our faith perspective.”

Perry noted that such opportunities are “especially important at this stage in our students’ growth and development. They are at the age where they are truly exploring self, actively pursuing a great sense of self-awareness and seeking a deeper understanding of others. It is through Lead From Here, and as our students garner a greater understanding of self and of others, that we are able to collectively influence broader change and understanding in our communities.”

Kirstin Deborah ’20 is a member of Nubian Queens, an affinity group for African-American and African Upper School girls.

“My affinity group has really helped me by formulating a group of people that are like me. We can relate to one another,” she said. “When we meet, it isn’t always about race-affiliated issues. We talk about day-to-day lives, share our stresses and talk about how we can address any challenges we are facing.”  

“It’s important to understand that research shows the affirmation of a young person’s identity is critical,” Bogue emphasized. “Not just for social-emotional development and sense of belonging to a community — but it is also critical for, and directly tied to, improving learning outcomes. As an educational institution, we believe it is essential to provide support to our students that research-based evidence shows improves learning outcomes.”

To learn more about Upper School affinity groups, please contact Peter Bogue, head of Upper School.

At top and center: Members of campus affinity groups and other organizations make posters and write notes of encouragement to fellow students in February; at bottom, members of affinity groups My Brother’s Keeper and Nubian Queens present a gift to the Embrace Possibility campaign at the Class of 2018’s Alumni Association welcome dinner.